After 12 years in power, Hitler was dead, having slaughtered millions and conquered Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
And Putin? After 13 years in power, and facing a crisis in Ukraine, he directed his soldiers in the Crimea to take control of the small peninsula where Russia has berthed its Black Sea fleet since Napoleon.
But as of now, this is a less bloody affair than Andrew Jackson’s acquisition of our Florida peninsula. In 1818, Gen. Jackson was shooting Indians, putting the Spanish on boats to Cuba and hanging Brits. And we Americans loved it.
Still, there are parallels between what motivates Putin, a Russian nationalist, and what motivated the Austrian corporal. Hitler’s war began in blazing resentment at what was done to Germany after Nov. 11, 1918.
What has this to do with Putin?
He, too, believes his country was humiliated and shabbily treated after the Cold War, and sees himself as protector of the ethnic Russians left behind when the Soviet Union came apart.
Between 1989 and 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev had freed the captive nations of Eastern Europe, allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve into 15 nations, and had held out a hand of friendship to the Americans.
What did we do? Moved NATO right onto Russia’s front porch. We brought all the liberated nations of Eastern Europe into our military alliance, along with three former Soviet republics.
The War Party tried to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, which was established to contain and, if necessary, fight Russia. Had they succeeded, we could have been at war with Russia in 2008 over Georgia and South Ossetia, and today over Crimea.
Five U.S. presidents who faced far more violent actions by a far more dangerous Soviet Union ― Truman, Ike, JFK, Johnson, Reagan ― refused even to threaten force against Russia for anything east of the Elbe river.
These presidents ruled out force during the Berlin Blockade of 1948, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the smashing of Solidarity in Poland in 1981.
Yet, today, we are committed to go to war for Lithuania and Estonia, Obama is sending F-16s to Latvia where half a million Russians live, and the War Party wants Sixth Fleet warships moved into the Black Sea.
If there is a Cold War II, or a U.S.-Russia war, historians of tomorrow will as surely point to the Bushes and Clintons who shoved NATO into Moscow’s face, as historians today point to the men of Paris who imposed the Versailles treaty upon a defeated Germany in 1919.